What is Web Accessibility?

Website Accessibility - Keyboard with and Accessibility Key

We’ve recently been asked the questions “What is web accessibility?” and “Why is accessibility important?” from some of our clients and contacts. As an integrated marketing agency, it’s often a question we hear during the evaluation of a current website or during the consideration of building a new one. And honestly, this is one of the most important questions that you can ask about your website and not just for the more obvious reasons.

However, before we dive too deep into the importance of accessibility, let’s start by defining what website accessibility is and what creating an accessible website really means.

An accessible website is one that accommodates all users on all devices regardless of the situation, circumstances or ability of the user.

Although that definition covers what accessibility is from a broad perspective, it doesn’t describe the specific requirements or the processes to make a website accessible and inclusive to all users. To define accessibility in more detail, there are several different published guidelines available. The most popular and widely accepted is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) developed through the Web Accessibility Initiative (WIA) as part of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). These guidelines are set to multiple levels with the strongest and most current being WCAG 2.0 Level AAA*. These guidelines are readily available online and we have provided a link to the WCAG guidelines at the end of this article.

Unless you are a developer or take specific interest in promoting an inclusive web, the guidelines above may be a bit too much. In that case, you can ask yourself some of the following basic questions:

  • Is there inclusive alternatives to all audio / visual assets on my website?
  • Are the color contrasts and font sizes on my website accommodating to users with varying levels of vision.
  • Would users with specific technology requirements still be able to access my site and consume the content?

If you don’t know the answer to any of those questions or the answer is no, it may be time to evaluate the accessibility of your website.

Why is Web Accessibility Important?

Now that we have covered exactly what web accessibility means, it is natural to ask “Why is accessibility important?” We can break that down into two major reasons.

1) Legal / ADA Compliance

There have been businesses brought under legal scrutiny after a user or group made claims that their website failed to be accessible to all users. These cases are pursued under the Americans with Disabilities Act and this is what makes the situation tricky. ADA compliance for websites is not explicitly defined which usually makes the situations complex, and more importantly, expensive.

2) User Experience and Inclusiveness

It is important that all visitors can utilize your website for more than just legal reasons too. A inclusive website is a performant website that converts more users.

Imagine going to a restaurant where you can’t read the menu, the wait for food is too long and there is no waiter available to help answer your questions. I doubt you would be very likely to stay and order food. I know I wouldn’t stay. That is what an inaccessible website may be like to a user with a unique need or technology requirement.

However by making content consumable to all users and having a site that is performant with all devices and technology, the previous script can be flipped. The user will no longer face the challenges and will be much more likely to stay and do business.

Final Notes on Website Accessibility

Adopting a policy of inclusiveness doesn’t just benefit users with specific challenges but everyone. Many users struggle with font issues or may just prefer to digest content in a different way. By making the site inclusive you improve their experience as well. Having a site that is performant for all devices and technology may make or break certain user experiences but usually makes sites even faster and better performing for others.

Accessibility Guidelines:
Here is the WCAG guidelines if you are interested in the specifics of the guidelines as well.

* Since the development of this article, WCAG 2.1 was released in June of 2018. The link above for the WCAG guidelines provides information for both 2.0 and 2.1. The W3C website should always be referenced for the most current set of guidelines.

Disclaimer: This article is meant to be used for informational purposes only. This article should not be interpreted as legal advice.